On Thursday, New Horizons team published first paper on historic mission to Pluto, and the findings are astounding. The new research paper describes in great detail the dwarf planet’s geological structures, its atmosphere and eerie moons.
The New Horizons team published first paper on historic mission to Pluto on Oct. 16 in the journal Science.
The research was based on data beamed back by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its historic flyby of the planet on July 14. The scientific data and imagery revealed that Pluto is a far more complex world than scientists had imagined. It is also an active world to many scientists’ surprise.
Jim Green, chief planetary scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, described Pluto as a ‘fascinating world.’
“New Horizons is not only writing the textbook on the Pluto system, it’s serving to inspire current and future generations to keep exploring […],”
New Horizons probe had its closest encounter with the dwarf planet in mid-July. From an 8,507 mile altitude, New Horizons took some aweing photos of the remote world. But the data currently needs one more year to reach Earth as downlink speed is incredibly slow because of the incredible distance.
The photos revealed impact carters, grooves, and many more landforms. They also showed that Pluto has a colorful surface rather than being a dull black-and-white world.
The imagery also unveiled traces of water ice on the plant’s surface and thick haze in its atmosphere. According to New Horizons data, Pluto is slightly larger than scientists had estimated.
Alan Stern, the lead author of the research paper and planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), acknowledged that Pluto and its moons surprised New Horizons team in many ways. Planetary geologists, for instance, were surprised that old worlds can remain geologically active for so much time.
Pluto’s largest Moon Charon also impressed investigators. The moon is geologically active and has a dark colored spot at one of its poles. Its crust’s composition is also more complex than researchers had calculated.
Scientists hoped that the flyby may reveal the presence of smaller moons around Pluto, which it didn’t. Its known tinier moons Nix and Hydra were also scrutinized during the probe’s whizzing by. Scientists found that Nix is about 34 miles long, while Hydra us 27 miles long. Both moons are shinier than their larger counterpart Charon.
During the flyby, New Horizons gathered 50 Gb of new data on the planet and its moons. Scientists estimate that it make take at least a decade to analyze all the data.